|Jordan River, traditional site of Jesus' baptism.|
The Second Sunday in Advent Year B, 7th December 2014
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
An Exposition, With Practical Observations, of The Gospel According to St. Mark
We have heard the evidence given in by the first witness to the doctrine and miracles of our Lord Jesus; and now here is another witness produced, who calls for our attention. The second living creature saith, Come, and see, Rev. 6:3. Now let us enquire a little,
I. Concerning this witness. His name is Mark. Marcus was a Roman name, and a very common one, and yet we have no reason to think, but that he was by birth a Jew; but as Saul, when he went among the nations, took the Roman name of Paul, so he of Mark, his Jewish name perhaps being Mardocai; so Grotius. We read of John whose surname was Mark, sister’s son to Barnabas, whom Paul was displeased with (Acts 15:37, 38), but afterward had a great kindness for, and not only ordered the churches to receive him (Col. 4:10), but sent for him to be his assistant, with this encomium, He is profitable to me for the ministry (2 Tim. 4:11); and he reckons him among his fellow-labourers, Philemon 24. We read of Marcus whom Peter calls his son, he having been an instrument of his conversion (1 Pt. 5:13); whether that was the same with the other, and, if not, which of them was the penman of this gospel, is altogether uncertain. It is a tradition very current among the ancients, that St. Mark wrote this gospel under the direction of St. Peter, and that it was confirmed by his authority; so Hieron. Catal. Script. Eccles. Marcus discipulus et interpres Petri, juxta quod Petrum referentem audierat, legatus Roma à fratribus, breve scripsit evangelium—Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, being sent from Rome by the brethren, wrote a concise gospel; and Tertullian saith (Adv. Marcion. lib. 4, cap. 5), Marcus quod edidit, Petri affirmetur, cujus interpres Marcus—Mark, the interpreter of Peter, delivered in writing the things which had been preached by Peter. But as Dr. Whitby very well suggests, Why should we have recourse to the authority of Peter for the support of this gospel, or say with St. Jerome that Peter approved of it and recommended it by his authority to the church to be read, when, though it is true Mark was no apostle, yet we have all the reason in the world to think that both he and Luke were of the number of the seventy disciples, who companied with the apostles all along (Acts 1:21), who had a commission like that of the apostles (Lu. 10:19, compared with Mk. 16:18), and who, it is highly probable, received the Holy Ghost when they did (Acts 1:15; 2:1-4), so that it is no diminution at all to the validity or value of this gospel, that Mark was not one of the twelve, as Matthew and John were? St. Jerome saith that, after the writing of this gospel, he went into Egypt, and was the first that preached the gospel at Alexandria, where he founded a church, to which he was a great example of holy living. Constituit ecclesiam tantâ doctrinâ et vitae continentiâ ut omnes sectatores Christi ad exemplum sui cogeret—He so adorned, by his doctrine and his life, the church which he founded, that his example influenced all the followers of Christ.
II. Concerning this testimony. Mark’s gospel, 1. Is but short, much shorter than Matthew’s, not giving so full an account of Christ’s sermons as that did, but insisting chiefly on his miracles. 2. It is very much a repetition of what we had in Matthew; many remarkable circumstances being added to the stories there related, but not many new matters. When many witnesses are called to prove the same fact, upon which a judgment is to be given, it is not thought tedious, but highly necessary, that they should each of them relate it in their own words, again and again, that by the agreement of the testimony the thing may be established; and therefore we must not think this book of scripture needless, for it is written not only to confirm our belief that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, but to put us in mind of things which we have read in the foregoing gospel, that we may give the more earnest heed to them, lest at any time we let them slip; and even pure minds have need to be thus stirred up by way of remembrance. It was fit that such great things as these should be spoken and written, once, yea twice, because man is so unapt to perceive them, and so apt to forget them. There is no ground for the tradition, that this gospel was written first in Latin, though it was written at Rome; it was written in Greek, as was St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, the Greek being the more universal language.
Mark’s narrative does not take rise so early as those of Matthew and Luke do, from the birth of our Saviour, but from John’s baptism, from which he soon passes to Christ’s public ministry. Accordingly, in this chapter, we have, I. The office of John Baptist illustrated by the prophecy of him (v. 1-3), and by the history of him (v. 4-8). II. Christ’s baptism, and his being owned from heaven (v. 9–11). III. His temptation (v. 12, 13). IV. His preaching (v. 14, 15, 21, 22, 38, 39). V. His calling disciples (v. 16–20). VI. His praying (v. 35). VII. His working miracles. 1. His rebuking an unclean spirit (v. 23–28). 2. His curing Peter’s mother-in-law, who was ill of a fever (v. 29–31). 3. His healing all that came to him (v. 32, 34). 4. His cleansing a leper (v. 40–45).
We may observe here,
I. What the New Testament is—the divine testament, to which we adhere above all that is human; the new testament, which we advance above that which was old. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God, v. 1. 1. It is gospel; it is God’s word, and is faithful and true; see Rev. 19:9; 21:5; 22:6. It is a good word, and well worthy of all acceptation; it brings us glad tidings. 2. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the anointed Saviour, the Messiah promised and expected. The foregoing gospel began with the generation of Jesus Christ—that was but preliminary, this comes immediately to the business—the gospel of Christ. It is called his, not only because he is the Author of it, and it comes from him, but because he is the Subject of it, and it treats wholly concerning him. 3. This Jesus is the Son of God. That truth is the foundation on which the gospel is built, and which it is written to demonstrate; for is Jesus be not the Son of God, our faith is vain.
II. What the reference of the New Testament is to the Old, and its coherence with it. The gospel of Jesus Christ begins, and so we shall find it goes on, just as it is written in the prophets (v. 2); for it saith no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said should come (Acts 26:22), which was most proper and powerful for the conviction of the Jews, who believed the Old-Testament prophets to be sent of God and ought to have evidenced that they did so by welcoming the accomplishment of their prophecies in its season; but it is of use to us all, for the confirmation of our faith both in the Old Testament and in the New, for the exact harmony that there is between both shows that they both have the same divine original.
Quotations are here borrowed from two prophecies—that of Isaiah, which was the longest, and that of Malachi, which was the latest (and there were above three hundred years between them), both of whom spoke to the same purport concerning the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, in the ministry of John.
1. Malachi, in whom we had the Old-Testament farewell, spoke very plainly (ch. 3:1) concerning John Baptist, who was to give the New-Testament welcome. Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, v. 2. Christ himself had taken notice of this, and applied it to John (Mt. 11:10), who was God’s messenger, sent to prepare Christ’s way.
2. Isaiah, the most evangelical of all the prophets, begins the evangelical part of his prophecy with this, which points to the beginning of the gospel of Christ (Isa. 40:3); The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, v. 3. Matthew had taken notice of this, and applied it to John, ch. 3:3. But from these two put together here, we may observe, (1.) That Christ, in his gospel, comes among us, bringing with him a treasure of grace, and a sceptre of government. (2.) Such is the corruption of the world, that there is something to do to make room for him, and to remove that which gives not only obstruction, but opposition to his progress. (3.) When God sent his Son into the world, he took care, and when he sends him into the heart, he takes care, effectual care, to prepare his way before him; for the designs of his grace shall not be frustrated; nor may any expect the comforts of that grace, but such as, by conviction of sin and humiliation for it, are prepared for those comforts, and disposed to receive them. (4.) When the paths that were crooked, are made straight (the mistakes of the judgment rectified, and the crooked ways of the affections), then way is made for Christ’s comforts. (5.) It is in a wilderness, for such this world is, that Christ’s way is prepared, and theirs that follow him, like that which Israel passed through to Canaan. (6.) The messengers of conviction and terror, that come to prepare Christ’s way, are God’s messengers, whom he sends and will own, and must be received as such. (7.) They that are sent to prepare the way of the Lord, in such a vast howling wilderness as this is, have need to cry aloud, and not spare, and to lift up their voice like a trumpet.
III. What the beginning of the New Testament was. The gospel began in John Baptist; for the law and the prophets were, until John, the only divine revelation, but then the kingdom of God began to be preached, Lu. 16:16. Peter begins from the baptism of John, Acts 1:22. The gospel did not begin so soon as the birth of Christ, for he took time to increase in wisdom and stature, not so late as his entering upon his public ministry, but half a year before, when John began to preach the same doctrine that Christ afterward preached. His baptism was the dawning of the gospel day; for,
1. In John’s way of living there was the beginning of a gospel spirit; for it bespoke great self-denial, mortification of the flesh, a holy contempt of the world, and nonconformity to it, which may truly be called the beginning of the gospel of Christ in any soul, v. 6. He was clothed with camels’ hair, not with soft raiment; was girt, not with a golden, but with a leathern girdle; and, in contempt of dainties and delicate things, his meat was locusts and wild honey. Note, The more we sit loose to the body, and live above the world, the better we are prepared for Jesus Christ.
2. In John’s preaching and baptizing there was the beginning of the gospel doctrines and ordinances, and the first fruits of them. (1.) He preached the remission of sins, which is the great gospel privilege; showed people their need of it, that they were undone without it, and that it might be obtained. (2.) He preached repentance, in order to it; he told people that there must be a renovation of their hearts and a reformation of their lives, that they must forsake their sins and turn to God, and upon those terms and no other, their sins should be forgiven. Repentance for the remission of sins, was what the apostles were commissioned to preach to all nations, Lu. 24:27. (3.) He preached Christ, and directed his hearers to expect him speedily to appear, and to expect great things from him. The preaching of Christ is pure gospel, and that was John Baptist’s preaching, v. 7, 8. Like a true gospel minister, he preaches, [1.] The great pre-eminence Christ is advanced to; so high, so great, is Christ, that John, though one of the greatest that was born of women, thinks himself unworthy to be employed in the meanest office about him, even to stoop down, and untie his shoes. Thus industrious is he to give honour to him, and to bring others to do so too. [2.] The great power Christ is invested with; He comes after me in time, but he is mightier than I, mightier than the mighty ones of the earth, for he is able to baptize with the Holy Ghost; he can give the Spirit of God, and by him govern the spirits of men. [3.] The great promise Christ makes in his gospel to those who have repented, and have had their sins forgiven them; They shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost, shall be purified by his graces, and refreshed by his comforts. And, lastly, All those who received his doctrine, and submitted to his institution, he baptized with water, as the manner of the Jews was to admit proselytes, in token of their cleansing themselves by repentance and reformation (which were the duties required), and of God’s cleansing them both by remission and by sanctification, which were the blessings promised. Now this was afterward to be advanced into a gospel ordinance, which John’s using it was a preface to.
3. In the success of John’s preaching, and the disciples he admitted by baptism, there was the beginning of a gospel church. He baptized in the wilderness, and declined going into the cities; but there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, inhabitants both of city and country, families of them, and were all baptized of him. They entered themselves his disciples, and bound themselves to his discipline; in token of which, they confessed their sins; he admitted them his disciples, in token of which, he baptized them. Here were the stamina of the gospel church, the dew of its youth from the womb of the morning, Ps. 110:3. Many of these afterward became followers of Christ, and preachers of his gospel, and this grain of mustard-seed became a tree.